116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES - There is no hidden acrimony anywhere here between these teams, players and coaches. Just mutual respect.
That's pretty cool.
North Linn Coach Mike Hilmer spoke the other day about his admiration for Trey Shearer. Montezuma's all-state guard expressed that admiration right back in a similarly unprompted manner.
'I knew Austin and Jake a little bit,” Shearer said of Mike's sons: Jake the former Iowa Mr. Basketball and Austin the junior starting point guard. 'I wouldn't say I'm friends with Mike, but Mike and I know each other. He has known my family for a little while. So, yeah, we're pretty acquainted, and they're great people.”
North Linn and Montezuma square off Friday at noon for the Class 1A state championship. This might just be the perfect example of a bunch of quality folks on both sides being rewarded for being quality folks.
It's the fourth straight year North Linn (27-0) is playing for it all. The Lynx won the Class 2A championship in 2019 and were runners-up last season (in 2A) and 2018 (in 1A).
North Linn is 134-3 over these four seasons.
'Honestly, all it means is I've been fortunate to coach a lot of good kids,” Coach Hilmer said. 'I told these guys since day one that I am a big believer that good things happen to good kids. I said ‘There's a reason you guys continue to win.' Because there are other kids who deserve to win. Maybe there's not as many on other teams, I don't know. But if you go to our school building, you wouldn't even know we have a state tournament team. Our kids aren't going to brag about how good they are. You can see it in this team. Nobody cares who scores the points. They're all smiles.
'We've got two kids, Kaleb Kurt and Gunner Vanourney, who played a lot during the year, but they haven't played much here because of all the media timeouts. They don't whine about it, they support their teammates. That's what it's all about.”
Montezuma (24-2) qualified for the state tournament for the third year in a row. It finished fourth in 1A in 2019 and third last season.
To finally get over that semifinal hump Wednesday in a 49-35 win over Grand View Christian meant the world.
'There are 147 teams in the state (in 1A), and there are so many good, talented teams that deserve it just as much as we do,” said Montezuma's Cole Watts. 'They've worked hard, they've put in the hours. To get to this moment, where there are two teams left, it's an amazing feeling.”
'I don't know about the boys, but for me, relief is the right word, 100 percent,” said Montezuma Coach Derrick Dengler. 'I've been so fortunate as a coach to just have great kids. We've been here in these spots the last two years and competed in both of those games but fell short. So to finally be able to get one, to get these guys an opportunity to play on Friday is awesome.”
Both of Montezuma's losses came early in the season when starting forward Eddie Burgess was out with a knee injury. They've been spotless, obviously, since his return in January.
Weird how the Braves were a seventh seed coming in here. North Linn was an obvious No. 1.
'Last year, we were just playing, right?” said North Linn's Dylan Kurt. 'Then in the summer, it was like ‘We did that. That was pretty incredible.' So that gives me a new perspective on it this year. I just really want to make the most of what we have in our final game.”
Watts, Burgess and Shearer have been mainstays in Monte's run here. North Linn will have its entire starting lineup and roster, sans Kaleb Kurt, returning next season.
'Obviously North Linn is as good of a program as the state of Iowa has seen in the last few years. Coach Hilmer is a tremendous coach, and they've got great athletes, great kids, play a fun style of basketball,” Dengler said. 'It's going to be a real challenge. I'm happy we have the opportunity. If we go out and play our game, attack, give ourselves a chance, that's what it's all about.”
'The reality of it as a coach is that it's hard to win a state title,” Hilmer said. 'If you get there, say, 10 times, you're lucky if you win half of them. I just feel that our kids will give their best effort and will try to make somebody beat them with our weaknesses. If they do, they do. If they don't, they don't.”
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